Tactics corner: the new look FC Barcelona

Tactics corner: the new look FC Barcelona

Fomer player Àlex Delmàs has an in depth look at the thinking behind Ronald Koeman's tactical approach in an article originally published in the REVISTA BARÇA

It has been a difficult season for Ronald Koeman's team but as the months have passed by the squad has demonstrated a great capacity to overcome those difficulties. A Barça who have been able to persevere and adapt, a committed and varied who when called upon can change their system according to the situation. 

Barça come into the final stretch of the season showing their chameleon like nature. After moving from 4-3-3 to 3-5-2 to help bring stability to the team and earn them their best run of the league campaign, Barça have moved into a stage of mixing this tactical formation with 4-3-3 according to the situation in the game. 

Defensive stability and 3-5-2 

In the league game against Sevilla, Ronald Koeman surprised everyone by using a 3-5-2 system, a formation the team had used before but did so now with some important added details. The first goal for the coach was looking for was the change in defensive areas with Barça moving from defending with two centre back to three. This modification gave the coach and the team a defensive solidity that was immediately effective. After having conceded 37 goals in 37 games before the tactical switch, Barça then only conceded three in the six games after making the move to three at the back and the following international break in the calendar. The blaugranes went from conceding an average of one goal per game to 0.5 goals per game. 


Pressuring the space 

Two of the essential characteristics of the 3-5-2 formation used by the team can be found on the flanks and at the point of attack. With wide players (Alba and Dest) having coverage behind, that allowed them to pressure higher up the field so Barça can go man to man against any opponent. It does not matter if the opposing side plays with a four man defence or a five man back line. 

Barça pressure with the two forward players plus the two wide players against a traditional four man defence and by bringing up a midfielder if their opponents are using five at the back. It is no coincidence that ball recoveries went up from an average of 59 per game to one of 61.1 per game in the part of the season in which they implemented this tactic. Up front the relative lack of space behind opposing defences is compensated in the system by the use of the figure of Dembélé attempting to lose his man with his pace and get in behind. 


The fluidity of 4-3-3

The most usual formation in the Barça school and the one Koeman uses to attack with greater success. This system has the strength of bring able to occupy space using triangles all over the pitch, a characteristic which makes provides order to the team and always gives the man in possession two options. Furthermore, this system has the tools to provide width (with wingers or with full backs pushing up) as well as space between the opposing full backs and centre backs. 


Where Messi receives the ball 

Depending on the formation being used, the areas in which the Barça 10 receives the ball also change. The 3-5-2 has the figure of Dembélé, whose pace prevents opposing defences from pressing too high up the field, leaving space in between the lines for Messi. When Barça use a 4-3-3 system then Messi has the freedom to play as a false 9. 

De Jong factor 

With the injury to Gerard Piqué, Frenkie de Jong was used in defence in a throwback to a position from another age, that of the sweeper. This is a tactic that Koeman can use at any point in a game. The manoeuvre allows the team to avoid pressure high up the field from opponents and also to gain numerical superiority in attack each time the Dutchman uses his ability on the ball. 


Space dictates change

The most important factor in determining the change of system is that of space. If the opponent presses high then the 3-5-2 can used to take advantage of one of its strengths; the ability of Dembélé and the wing backs to go deep. If, in contrast, the opponent decides to sit back in their own half then the 4-3-3 formation with wingers and full backs gives the team more options in that situation. Indeed, in the Clásico against a defensively minded Real Madrid, the team started the game with a 3-5-2 formation before moving to 4-3-3 in the second half. 

Mingueza and Dembélé changing position

Very versatile players, they can both change tactical position in the midst of a match without necessitating a change of personnel. If needed, Mingueza can move from full back to right back whilst the Frenchman can move from a central striking position to out wide (usually on the right). 

*All stats provided by Opta Sports

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